Myanmar is a fascinating country to visit and Bagan is one of its top destinations. There are many amazing temples here, and you can really immerse yourself in exploring them. Its a great place to see local people too. As well as those who live here there are many domestic pilgrims, visiting the temples to pay their respects. Its a really important religious site as well as an historical one. The big temples do have a large number of visitors but you can easily find yourself alone amongst the smaller temples. It really is a fantastic area to explore and is well worth the trip. Personally I say it is one of the biggest highlights in Southeast Asia.
A quick History of the area
The Temples of Bagan currently consists of over 2000 Buddhist temples in central Myanmar. They are what remains from its time as capital of the Kingdom of Pagan, between the 9th and 13th centuries. Pagan being the old name for Bagan. This kingdom was the first to unify people in the regions that now make up modern Myanmar. It became a stronghold of Theravāda Buddhism after King Anawrahta’s conversion to the religion. He took the throne in 1044 CE and founded the Pagan Empire. It was under his leadership that the construction of all these temples began. He is seen as an important figure in Buddhist history, as he helped Buddhism prosper and expand in the face of the Hindu Khmer empire.
There were over 10,000 temples in the past, the 2000 now are what remains. The Pagan Empire collapsed in 1287 after repeated Mongol invasions. Bagan lost its status and prominence, ceasing to be the capital a few years later. Many temples fell into disrepair over the next several centuries, as although it was a pilgrimage site it was not well frequented. It is only since the 1990’s that it has been promoted as a tourist site. The area is also prone to earthquakes, and several temples were destroyed or damaged in a big one in 2016. I actually experienced a smaller earthquake when I was in Bagan myself earlier that year. In 2019 Bagan was given UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
Information on Bagan
If your planning to visit Bagan and want to stay in a hostel then I recommend the Ostello Bello Bagan. It organises ebike sunrise and sunset tours and is a really good backpacker hub.
To my current knowledge it is the only hostel in the area. Update 2020 – having checked online it now seems other hostels have begun to pop up in Bagan. There is also a plan in place to move all hotels to a specific hotel zone, to help protect the temples.
As is standard for Buddhist temples you need to remove your shows before entering them. This includes walking on them in any way. In Myanmar you also need to remove your socks as you must be barefoot. You can read more of my advice on visiting Buddhist temples here.
When I visited in April the temperatures were extremely high. They reached up to 47C during the day! This meant you could only really go exploring before 11am and after 4pm each day. If your someone who struggles with heat, consider going in a cooler part of the year!
You need to pay a fee to enter the Bagan Archaeological Zone. As of 2017 it is 20 dollars.
The current inhabited areas are split into 3. Old Bagan, New Bagan and Nyaung-U. Most of the accommodation is the in the latter two. Old Bagan is great for Burmese restaurants and a good place to try out traditional Burmese food.
Photos from Bagan
These are a collection of photographs from when I visited the ancient temples in 2016. I really enjoyed my visit and took a lot of photos. It was a challenge to pick out which ones to share here. Its hard to portray the scale of the area here, it really does cover a massive area. But I think these photos give a decent impression of what it’s like.